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NZ First's push for work for the dole scheme causes tension in coalition government

Cracks are showing in the new coalition government as New Zealand First pushes for work for the dole schemes.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says there'll be no more sitting on the couch for young people on benefits.

But the detail of how these schemes would work and whether they should come with penalties could create tension.

Mr Jones believes there should be penalties if people don't take up offers of work.

But the Greens want even existing sanctions removed, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is concerned about the heavy-handedness of some of those penalties. 

"Sanctions already exist within our welfare system and the discussion that Cabinet will have is how they apply in this specific programme," Ms Ardern said.

National leader Bill English says there will probably be "paralysis because the Labour Party is trying to square the circle of no sanctions at all from the Greens and New Zealand First wanting to have some obligations on these people". 

Mr Jones hopes many of the jobs will be in Northland where the 7.3 per cent unemployment rate is among the highest in the country.

He suggests people who've been on the dole for longer than six months should get their hands dirty, planting trees or working in regional tourism schemes.

But there are concerns over exactly how it would work.

"What we've got here is an opportunity to create an industry with good employment prospects in it. Let's do that and bring that to people who want work, rather than forcing people against their will," said Richard Wagstaff, Council of Trade Unions president.

Ms Ardern insists any such project would pay the minimum wage.

There are already many taxpayer-funded regional youth employment schemes.

Asked would Labour be looking at an extension of those, Ms Ardern said: "Some of the areas where we're targeting are areas where we have seen higher levels of unemployment where we also need to see investment in regional economic development and job opportunities."

But no proposals have officially been taken to Cabinet.  Mr Jones says he hopes to do so before Christmas.

Shane Jones says there'll be no more sitting on the couch for young people on benefits. Source: 1 NEWS